When you’re sixteen, getting your driver’s license is a joyous occasion, one which marks your journey towards relative freedom and adulthood. In my case, the road to freedom was unfortunately pockmarked by a 1993 Toyota Corolla… or, to be more specific, a 1993 pink Toyota Corolla, which my dad had bought eight years earlier because it was the cheapest car on the lot.
The Corolla was an abominable car. Its body was pinkish-grey, which made it look like a giant tongue on wheels (a tongue from the mouth of a lifetime smoker with severe halitosis). A black rubber line ran across its midsection, as if having a ghetto racing stripe would somehow make a pink Toyota Corolla more stylish. Even though my dad admitted that the car looked like Pepto-induced-vomit, he argued that the ugliness of its exterior didn’t matter as long as it could still do its job. Like Dirk Nowitzki. So I ended up driving the Pepto monstrosity to school every day, all while trying to convince myself that having a car that looked like a blackened lung was marginally better than having no car at all.
The common stereotype is that Asians are cheap, and this is true of my family. My parents have always been bargain shoppers. My mom’s proudest moments include the birth of her two kids, followed by finding a $120 dress on sale for $19. My dad has a similar philosophy, which results in him typically looking like the clearance rack at a TJ Maxx. And even though my brother and I try to avoid the quasi-homeless look that constitutes my dad’s fashion sense, we’ve both become allergic to buying anything full-price. I bought a full-price shirt from Banana Republic once — I stared at it in my closet for two hours before going to return it the next day.
Unlike other Scrooges though, my family is only cheap to one another. My parents never tip less than 20% when we go to restaurants, and they make it a point to give gifts with no obvious clearance tags. Still, our in-family cheapness has become almost laughable. This year, my dad splurged on a Christmas gift for my mom: a pair of oven mitts from Marshalls. In turn, my mom went all out for my dad: a six-pack of Hanes black socks. Certainly the economy has turned around if my dad is getting six pairs of socks and my mom is getting two oven mitts.
In the few weeks since I’ve been home, we’ve gone to Costco 8 times. Seriously. Eight times in fifteen days. If I were the manager at Costco, I’d think we were casing the joint. We now have enough toilet paper and vitamins to last us through the next decade. Discount-diving has become a chronic family addiction.
So today, when I went off to buy a gift for a friend’s newborn, I vowed to keep an open mind about buying in-season, non-sale items. I pulled into Babies R Us, looking fly in my dad’s “new” minivan: a 2001 Honda Odyssey which has 120,000 miles on it and a heating unit that only works if you crank it up to 85 degrees. Once inside the store, I immediately found an adorable outfit with trains and a cute pair of conductor mittens… at a whopping $28. Fine. This gift is in celebration of new life, and there’s no way to quantify that. But then, suddenly, unwittingly, my sale-seeking eye caught another outfit with a bright red clearance tag: a furry onesie with bear booties, 50% off. Less cute, but it wasn’t all that bad. He’d outgrow it all in a few months anyway, right? I thought it over for a while before I finally made my decision:
If I can drive around for four years in a pink car, then this baby can wear a half-price onesie with booties. You’re welcome, kid.